December 26, 2012

My Top 10 books From 2012

End of year lists seem a popular thing to make. Movies, music, books, video games, sports moments, news stories, nothing seems left untouched by such lists. After reading a few of these, I decided it might be kind of fun to go over my top 10 reads from 2012. Keep in mind, these sort of lists are ridiculously subjective, but isn't that what makes it fun? Bear in mind, unlike many such lists, mine is not of books published in 2012, but of books I personally read this past year.

1. The Man Who Was Thursday- G.K. Chesterton
This book tops my list for one reason-it was simply the most enjoyable read I have ever enjoyed enjoying; and I don't care if that's redundant. I was glued to the pages, which is an affect fiction generally does not have on me. Good story, a gripping style of writing.

2. Radical- David Platt
I had put off reading this book. Not for any reason other than it was very popular, and I am rather leery of the popular. I have never highlighted and underlined a book so thoroughly. My copy looks like a little kid got ahold of it. Platt's call to authentic (or rather, Radical) discipleship was refreshing, and is needed.

3. A Sweet and Bitter Providence- John Piper
The first of three Piper books, and the only re-read on the list. This was the first Piper book I ever read, and it had me hooked from the first time I picked it up in 2009. Glad I read it again.

4. Future Grace- John Piper
The hardest book on this list for me to read. Also the most deeply helpful book on the list. This book showed me more of God than any other, even though reading it at times felt like I was in a mental and spiritual slug-fest. The relation of faith and works, faith and assurance  faith and living as a Christian are but among many of the issues Piper tackles in this weighty classic.

5. Preaching and Preachers- Dr. Martin Llyod-Jones
My first exposure to Llyod-Jones; I went back and forth between laughing hysterically and being deeply convicted by his pointed style. Probably not something the average reader will find interesting, but a good and enjoyable read for anyone in vocational ministry.

6. Basic Christianity- John Stott
One of the most important Christian books of the 20th Century (named Christianity Today's "Book of the Century"), Stott's work is an excellent one. It also is exceedingly clear and simple to understand. A good read for those curious about Christianity, new to the faith, or who need a refresher course - as I did.

7. Heretics- G.K. Chesterton
The precursor to Chesterton's better known "Orthodoxy," this book was an absolute blast for me to read. And even though many of the people he addresses are long-forgotten, the issues which he tackles remain, for the most part, timely and relevant.

8. A Grief Observed- C.S. Lewis
Written after the death of his wife, this book is raw emotion. Things we all feel, but put into words in a way few but Lewis could.

9.Date Your Wife- Justin Buzzard
Like a self-help book for men, except his whole point is that you can't help yourself. You need Jesus. Buzzard does a good job of pointing men to Jesus, not simply to tell them to conform to a religious pattern, but rather to fall down in worship and cry out for help.

10. Brothers, We Are Not Professionals- John Piper
Rounding out the list is another classic from Piper. A call for a radically God-dependent ministry, rather than one dependent on so-called "professionalism".

December 19, 2012

Broken hearts and black rifles

First things first. Before I make any remotely political statements I want to first say that my heart breaks for those families in Connecticut. As should that of anyone with a pulse. The fact that people on both sides of the isle started screaming about gun control before the day was out on Friday is profoundly disturbing to me. You don't blame murders on tools. You also don't question the sincerity of a father (who happens to hold our highest elected office) who is moved to tears by such a tragedy.

This is part of why I hate the 24 hour news cycle. This is, first and foremost, a tragedy. It is not a news story. And yet all day Friday all we heard were reports (often conflicting) of this "breaking news." The only thing that ought to have broken that day was our hearts. I digress.

The issue at hand is that of gun control. I intend to be rather brief. Many are calling for a reinstatement of the so called "assault weapons ban" of 1994-2004. While I am all for the open debate of ideas to help reduce crime, I want to make a few observations.

1) The "assault weapons ban" did not reduce crime. Why do you think it was allowed to lapse in 2004? Because it didn't do anything besides restrict what sort of gun one could manufacture or purchase based, primarily, on cosmetic features such as whether there were pistol grips of whether the stock folds. You might have accurately called it a "scary looking guns" ban. Notably, the Columbine shootings occured while this ban was in effect.

2) A constant refrain we are hearing is "we have to figure out something"; the obvious implication being that tragedies such as this one can be prevented. While I believe this view stems from a very flawed understanding of human nature (that man is basically good), I will address it nonetheless. If we take any mass scale action, be it through gun control, institutionalizing more mental patients, or whatever our President's gun violence commission comes up with, it is going to come with trade-offs. For the government to make anyone safer it must, of necessity, grow. And as the government grows, as the power of the collective grows, there is a simultaneous reduction in the power and freedom of the individual. I have not the space here to consider the pros and cons of that trade-off, but it is one we must as Americans be aware of. Just know that no matter how well-intentioned any new law, regulation, or procedure, it will reduce freedom. Laws are, by definition, restrictive. And what they restrict is freedom. That is not always a bad thing, but we must be careful to have weighed that out ahead of time.

3) To all the "pro-gun" people who "support the 2nd Amendment" and then turn around and say you are okay with hunting rifles, but not black rifles: you drive me nuts. Your logic is non-existent. The 2nd Amendment says that the reason the people's right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed is so that there may be a well regulated militia in order to protect our free state (nation). It is not so that we may enjoy bird hunting. Or target shooting. In simple language, the founders said we should have guns so that when bad guys try to kill us or harm our state, we had not only the desire, but also the means with which to fight back. Hunting and recreational shooting are great. I enjoy both. But that is not what the 2nd Amendment is about. It's about being able to defend myself and others from those who would bring harm.

Finally -this is so obvious that I won't dignify it by giving it it's own point- we need realize that criminals don't obey laws. Gangs won't be affected by gun control. Drug cartels will not be affected by gun control. Madmen who kill children won't be affected by gun control.

This world has problems. Should we seek to prevent tragedies such as the one last Friday? Absolutely. But instead of making emotionally charged sweeping changes to law, let's look for things that will actually help.

December 13, 2012

A little note on fiscal foolishness

A poem dedicated to our dear government and our foolish spending habits.

Little man up on the moon
We shall all meet you soon
Yes we will see your face
As we invade your happy place

Cause NASA'a flying everywhere
Using our funds to get up there
Our governement finds it wise
Fiscal discretion to despise

So we shall soar on up to you
With wallets feeling rather blue
Our debts shall climb up ever on
And soon our money will be gone

Note: I love the idea of exploring space. I don't believe anyone lives on the moon. Or anywhere else in space. I realize we've already been to the moon. My point is this-our government is spending money on a lot of things that, while good, are not the proper function of government. And it will be the end of our nation, perhaps sooner rather than later.
So is space exploration good? Sure. Is feeding the poor and needy good, nay, vital? Absolutely. Do we want the economy to do well and businesses to succeed? Of course. However, is it the job of the federal government to care for the needy, or should I as an individual, and we collectively through churches and charities take on that responsibility? Should the government control the winners and losers in the business world, and inject (through taxation) our money into a business that obviously had not been supported enough for them to succeed? And is space exploration really as crucial as taking care of our mounting indebtedness to countries such as China and Russia? Worth pondering.
But our politicians won't ponder these things. Because serious and substantial cuts in federal spending are not on their radar. Why? Because the average joe is happy to borrow from their children and grandchildren to enjoy their current standard of living. We aren't willing to be responsible adults. It might be uncomfortable. Oh, America. The little man on the moon is probably shaking his head.

December 11, 2012

A Dangerous Chase

A young man went out into the world

It was greatness that he hoped to find
But as life’s pressures ‘round him swirled
Those dreams crumbled in his mind



Dejected by the “hand life dealt”
Our friend’s thoughts did begin to waver
And because great failure he had felt
He hoped that drugs would be his savior



“Just numb it all” he told himself
As the needle slipped inside his vein
He felt he fought the world itself
For all that remained was pain



He had lost both family and health
Whilst success had been his chief endeavor
But loss of job meant loss of wealth
And he was without all earthly treasure



He passed out one night beside the road
And did not awake again on earth
Could anyone have his end foretold?
What would that warning have been worth?



The tragic end of this man’s life
Should cause each man to pause
What do I value in my life?
What has been my greatest cause?



Will I come to the end and find
That all I’ve lived for is but naught?
To what has been my heart inclined?
What sort of treasure have I sought?



You see when all is said and done
Our temporal things won’t matter
But when our chiefest treasure is the Son
We have a wealth that will not shatter

December 06, 2012

Joy birthed of Pain

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

These are two of the verses to the familiar Christmas Hymn "O come, O come, Emmanuel." It is my favorite Christmas song, for a rather simple reason. In this song there is an incredible tension between an anxious, almost dejected, sense of waiting on the one hand; and a confident hope on the other.   On Sunday Andie and I started working through Desiring God's advent devotional, "Good News of Great Joy" (available free to download at http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/good-news-of-great-joy-free-advent-ebook). And I have been struck by how little joy there is surrounding Christmas in general, and for Christians especially. Hype, yes. Anticipation of gifts to be given and recieved, perhaps. Dread of long shopping lines, probably. Stress over a million things that seem neccesary to "pull-off" the holiday, to be sure. But joy? I don't see much of it. And in the first few days going through this book, examining Scriptures related to the event we celebrate on December 25th-God becoming a man, in the form of an infant-I have noticed that I lack excitement. Think about it. Jesus, the One who created heaven and earth, who moulded the sun, set the stars, commands the tides, controls hurricanes and meteor showers-enters human history. Sets aside the rights of Divinity to becomes a child born to an unwed mother in a barn. Why? In order to live a life of perfection that would make Him a fit sacrifice. And in sacrificing Himself, He takes on my sin. The wrath of God is poured out on Him, and is satisfied by Him. He absorbs the wrath of God due to me. Jesus came and was born into a feed trough so that He could ultimately be killed in my place! That is mind blowing. Why am I not amazed? Why do I not leap with joy any time I think of a baby crying in a manger 2000 years ago? Why do I not sing along with His mother of His great mercy in esteeming my lowly estate?   I think part of it is the fact that it seems so distant. I mean, come on Will. We live in world of war, turmoil, where tornadoes rip up homes, and divorce rips up families. One where loved ones die and we get cancer. How can we be filled with joy? It's a completely legitimate question.

Yet I think this tension is what answers that question. Because all that pain which we refer to as life is what makes us capable of the longing for God we need. When everything is coasting, I don't feel a need for God. When the money is in the bank, and the kids are healthy, and everyone likes me, I sure don't think I need anyones help. But when the feces hit the fan, I know how weak I am. I realize that none of this is in my control. And all of a sudden I am feeling the reality of that "God shaped hole." I can feel the something of the ansxt with which Simeon must have waited for the consolation of Israel. Until there is pain and helplessness, I am too proud for my heart to cry "O come, O come, Emmanuel!" Joy can enter when my need is apparent, and with confidence I know that He will come. That he has come. That He cares. That he cares enough to come not only in a spiritual sense, but He cared enough to come down and get dirty. We have a High Priest who can sympathize with our weakness, the author of Hebrews tells us. Rejoice. Rejoice! Emmanuel has come to thee, O Israel. He has come. He is our joy.

November 29, 2012

Vision

What I am about to say applies in large part to women as well, but I want to address men.

Most men have a vision for their life that is far too small. Perhaps you are among them. Many of you may have no vision for your life at all. I want to get at what lies behind that. There obviously can be many reasons for not having a driving vision for your life, but what I want to propose is that many of you simply need to wake up to the reality that you think far too little of God, and consequently, you expect far too little of what He can do in you and through you.


Perhaps you hope to be a nice person. Perhaps you hope to raise a nice family. Perhaps you hope to be a good worker. Perhaps you hope to go to heaven when you die. These are all nice things. But it that is all you expect out of life, something is missing.
In the book of Ecclesiastes chapter seven, Solomon says this:


"A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth. It is better to go into a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure." (Ecclesiastes 7:1-4)


Solomon here tells us, in essence, that more wisdom is gained from mourning and pondering death, than from partying and being merry. Why is this? Because "death is the destiny of every man." That includes you. You will die. The question becomes, are you living in light of that? We all know on some level that facing death forces us to face how we're living. Whether it's the death of someone close, or a near death encounter of our own, or being told by the doctor that our time is short. Staring at death has a way of realigning our priorities. The question I have though, is what set those priorities in the first place? On page 23 of Justin Buzzard's book "Date Your Wife" (an excellent read for single men too!), he puts it this way,
"A dream is a collection of ideas, feelings, and beliefs about a particular topic. A dream is what drives a man...Some men are aware of this, some are not." That is to say, it is a dream that drives us, and our priorities, our actions, will fall in line with what that dream is. Most guys aren't thinking about this, and aren't purposefully dreaming somehing of import. Lives are lived floating along without any point, any vision, without a conscious dream. The result is lives that end up not accomplishng much.


What I want to challenge you to-what I believe Scripture challenges us to-is a far bigger dream than anything we could come up with on our own. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." Even our eating and drinking, lifes most mundane actionnns, are to be done for God's glory. Does that leave any room whatsoever for mindless drifting along? Or for chasing insignificant dreams? Do all for the glory of God.
I love the following quote from page 32 of John Piper's book "Don't Waste Your Life."


"We waste our lives when we do not pray and think and dream and plan and work toward magnifying God in all spheres of life."


Are you wasting your life? Are you failing to dream a dream of glorifying God with your every moment? The answer is yes. You are failing. So am I. But here is the Good News of the Gospel. God loves failures like us. He loved us when we were still His enemies (Romans 5:10). How much more now that we are adopted as His sons (1:12)? Now, this loving us and saving us was most obviously not because we were awesome and God somehow needed us. Isaiah 43:7 says that those God has called, He has done for His own glory, for the sake of His name. And He gains fame and glory for His name not only through saving us from sin, hell, and His own righteous wrath; but also through using us to demonstrate obedience to Him and to bring glory to His name among all the nations by making them His disciples. (See: Matthew 28:18-20, Romans 1:1-7). Which means this. God means not only to save you, but to use you for His glory. And whether you are dreaming a dream right now or not, nothing you could be contriving on your own is as big as living for the glory of the God of all the universe. Nothing.

So how does that play out in your life? You need to find out how God has gifted you. You need to figure out whats skills and talents you have, and develop those. You need to figure out what you're interested in and how God can use all of those interests and talents and abilities. You need to earnestly seek God and ask Him to show you where He would have you be and what He would have you do. And you need to open up your Bible and read it. Don't expect God to speak to you when you won't read the book He wrote. Men, you have a God given purpose. Find it. Live it.

November 20, 2012

Crappy Offerings and the Pointlessness of Thanksgiving.

“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’ By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?’ By saying that the LORD's table may be despised. When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the LORD of hosts. And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? says the LORD of hosts. Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the LORD of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts. But you profane it when you say that the Lord's table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised. But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the LORD of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the LORD. Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the LORD of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.
(Malachi 1:6-14 ESV)   There's one of those stupid virtual cards kicking around Facebook right now that makes a rather ironic point. This gist of it is that we go berserk trampling over people in order to buy things the day after supposedly giving thanks for what we already have. Normally I enjoy such ironies and might have enjoyed a laugh over it, but I had already read this passage in Malachi earlier that morning. So rather than seeing humor I was bugged by the haunting similarity between Israel 400 BC and America 2012 AD.   The Israelite people are bringing sacrifices that aren't what God wants. Rather than bringing their first fruits, the proverbial cream of the crop, offerings and sacrifices that would display hearts that were grateful to God for what He had given, these people instead bring their junk. They bring the lame and the sick. They see worship as wearisome and a duty. And God flat out rejects it. He calls it evil and pronounces cursing upon those who would bring such a sacrifice before the God of all the universe. It might seem like an over reaction at first, but when we stop to think about it, I think most of us will agree that it is justified. Not only does God deserve their worship based on the simple fact that He is God and deserves the worship of all of His creation, but furthermore He has bestowed special blessing upon Israel. He has called them His own and made them a special nation-and yet they respond like this. Yeah, I think cursing them is pretty reasonable. Discomfort gone.   Except for that inconvenient similarity I mentioned earlier. What do I present to God? In Romans 12 the Apostle Paul tells us that it is reasonable-not extravagent, exceptional, amazing, or above and beyond-simply reasonable, to offer our entire bodies as a living sacrifice to God. The idea being that, considering who God is and what He has done in salvation, you give Him your everything. Not because you are a super-Christian, but because it is the logical thing to do. And yet, how often do we live in what is the logical fashion? The average "Christian" (disclaimer #1: Now, just because a peep calls themself a Christian doesn't mean it's true, so that's gonna skew statistics. But that's what we have to work with.) gives 2% of their income to charity. Not their local church. Just charity. So let's just guesstimate that church giving is in the 1.5% range. The average income in America is over $40,000, but we'll use that for simple math. 1.5% of 40,000 is 600. Six hundred freaking dollars. Divide by 12. That's 50. Fifty bucks a month. So God is roughly as important to us, financially speaking, as a plain Jane cell phone plan or a crappy Dish package. Now, I wonder if God is going to accept that. (disclaimer #2: God and church aren't the same thing. But the church is His bride. Writing in the 3rd century Cyprian said, "He cannot have God as his Father who does not have the church for his Mother.") My point is this-what the average person offers God financially is, if you will, an offering of dung. If you think that's a little dramatic, let's check the next chapter in Malachi.   Behold, I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and you shall be taken away with it. (Malachi 2:3 ESV)   This is hardcore rejection. God not only calls their offerings dung, He says that He will spread it in their faces. The point is this. God wants your heart. He doesn't need your stupid money, but you need to give the money, because where your money is your heart is going to follow (Matthew 6:21). If you aren't giving, it speaks to a heart problem. And this isn't just financial, it also applies to how you use your time, your talents, and the very way in which you structure your life. Money is just an easy one to pick on, and it's obviously important because Jesus talks about money more than anyone else in the Bible does.   So my point is this. Most of us are offering God dung. Most of the "thanks" we throw up on Thanksgiving, most of the Sunday mornings sat in church when we're zoning out wishing we weren't there, and that spare change we toss in the plate because that's "all we can afford" is just dung in God's eyes that will be rubbed in our faces in the long run. It's been said (if I knew who said it I'd give them credit) that if it doesn't mean anything to you it won't mean anything to God. That's an ouch statement. The personal application question is this-are you among the many? Are you offering crap to God?

November 12, 2012

a Prayer

I wrote this quite a while back. It was a Saturday Morning in Missoula. I woke up and tried to pray before I started reading my Bible. Prayer can be a real labor for me, and this morning was worse than usual, so I decided to write it down.

As I went back over it a while later, I thought it might be worth sharing, and so I sent it into the eZine I write for, Genuine Motivation. I think a lot of what I wrote down comes from desires most Christians have. We want to love God more, and we want to be used by Him. We want our lives to matter. We don't want a wasted existence. Realizing that my readership there is quite different than who reads GenMo, I thought it worthwhile to post here as well.



Father God,
Thank You for who You are. I thank You for being so enormous and majestic that even the rocks will cry out if we fail to. I praise You and thank You for the fact that You made creation in such a way that it really does speak so plainly that it is not only a statement of Your existence, but also a declaration of Your glory! I thank You for manifesting Yourself to us through what are called "common" or "general" ways. What flimsy words for such marvelous truths are these?

Lord, I pray that You would use me mightily in the proclamation of these truths. You have been so gracious in showing them to me. I cannot keep silent. Make Your voice loud through me. Use me effectively. Work in spite of me, as You so often have done in the past. Mold me. Shape me. Make me more useful for Your work and kingdom. Lord, I pray for my words both written and spoken. I also pray for my life. I pray that my words would be true to Your character and to Your word, even to the Living Word, Jesus Christ. Allow me to point others to Your clearest revelation to us, that is, Your Son. I pray that I would be unambiguous when I communicate your gospel. May I be so deeply rooted in, soaked in, steeped in, and saturated with Your Word that I may be authoritative. I pray my life would follow Your powerful Word, so that Your grace would continue to be poured out on me by means of sanctification. May it point out, call out and remove my sin. Point me towards You, graciously showing more and more of Your all-consuming beauty. Don’t allow me to desire and to chase trivial things like power, prestige, money, popularity or comfort. Keep ever before me the flightiness of this life and the endurance of You. Be the One who consumes me. Allow me ever to see the joy of exalting and glorifying You, my Savior, Lord and King. I pray this most especially when suffering comes. I thank You that Christ has endured and removed my condemnation and that any trial or suffering that I encounter is not punitive, but sanctifying.
You are conforming me to the image of Your Son. What a gift this is! Allow me to find my joy in You and not my circumstance. Keep me humbled under Your righteous right hand that in due time I may be lifted up. Allow me to see the suffering in my life as a sculptor’s chisel, a refiner’s fire or as a sanctifying agent. Soften my heart to be the proverbial clay in the potter’s hand. Make my life a megaphone to this world proclaiming Your sufficiency.

I pray You would make me a husband who loves his wife as Christ loves His church. I pray I would indeed give myself up for her, as well. Allow me to dwell with her in an understanding way and teach me to better cherish this wonderful co-heir in the grace of eternal life with whom You have allowed me to walk through this life. Teach me to be a humble servant laying aside my selfish desires. Teach me to be a strong leader fearlessly following You and shepherding my wife appropriately. I pray you would allow me to provide for her well and to take care of her.
You, Lord, are my only hope. Without You I am nothing. Keep this ever before my eyes. Keep me desperate for You. Don’t let me be satisfied with how I’m doing. Don’t allow me to be content with the quality of my walk. Don’t let me feel as if I have arrived. I pray that I would press on toward the goal and that I would be faithful to You.
God, I am needy. This You obviously know since You killed Your Son to pay for my need and You have sent Your Spirit to make me, a dead man, alive.
Thank You,

In the name which is above every name, Jesus Christ,
Amen.



Here are some passages of Scripture related to what's here.
Psalm 42
Isaiah 43
1 Corinthians 15
Ephesians 1-2
Philippians 1:29, 2:5-11, 3:1, 7-11
1 Peter 2:24, 3:7

October 16, 2012

Reppin' it Old School

Let me begin with a clarification of terms. By Reppin', I mean Repetition. And by Old Schhol, I mean way Old School. Think Calvin. Heidelberg. Westminster. We're talking Catechisms. For those unfamiliar with what a catechism is, here is the basic idea. A set of propositional truths are put forth in a question-and-answer format to teach doctrine, and guard against both error and wrong teaching.
If you're like me, in that you grew up either in an evangelical church or unchurched, this concept is likely somewhat foreign to you. While it is still in use in some Catholic and a very few mainline Protestant churches, catechims have gone somewhat the way of the dodo.
The reasoning for this is more than I could cover here, but if I might be allowed some over-simplification, here is how I would put it:
People don't want to hear propositional truth, they'd rather have their ears scratched in a discussion or lecture format, and have no use for participatory learning of deep, solid, Gospel truths. There's my over-simplified version.
Add to that the fact that most of the faiths great catechisms were written 300+ years ago, which makes the language archaic. The result? Well, you can still find them on Google, but you won't find many catechisms at use in your local church.
And I would like to contend that this is a problem. We live in an age where propositional truth is hard to come by. Even people and churches that claim to believe truth, may be hard-pressed to provide you with that truth if you were to ask them. How many people in your church could a three sentence description of who God is? How many people in your church could accurately give a reason for why God created man? What about Jesus, sin, hell, justification, grace, etc? Just what exactly is baptism about? Could you even answer these questions? I fear the answer for most of us would be "no." Of course, maybe you think well on your feet. You might be able to come up with something for an answer. But would that answer be Biblical? Would that answer line up with the teachings of Scripture and the historic orthodox interpretation of those Scriptures? In most cases, that would be doubtful. What we are experiencing is rampant Biblical ignorance, even among those who have grown up in Chrisitan homes, attend church, Sunday school, and youth group, and have been involved in more Bible studies than Jesus is likely to condone. People simply don't get the Bible. I have innumerable soap boxes I could jump onto at this point, but I will try to stay on task here. There are a lot of things to blame for this ignorance. What I want to do instead today, is put forth what I believe is part of (although obviously not all of) the solution.

I believe churches and families should catechise. And not just the children. Parents need this. Pastors need this. When we are asked simple questions about the basics of our faith, we need to be ready with an answer for the hope we have inside. And catechisms are incredibly helpful in this. It is a labourious, but effective, method of teaching, which pours metric tons of information into our brains. And our childrens brains. And our new disciples brains. It sounds a bit like brainwashing, which in a sense it is. It's washing out the sinful mess of the world and replacing it with the beauty of God's revealed word. If you doubt the Biblical grounding for such things, I suggest you check Romans 12 and Ephesians 5. Paul told their Romans their minds need to be renewed. He told the Ephesians that Jesus cleanses His bride with washing by the Word, and that husbands are to follow that example. Which tells me my mind needs to be renewed, and I need to help my bride renew hers by washing her with the Word. Pretty simple. Why should we use catechisms for this? They work.

Now, let's not be naive. Of course simply teaching people a set of truths won't change their hearts, it won't force them to believe anything they've learned, etc. But teaching propositional truths, grounded deeply in the Truth of God's Word, gives us Biblical categories for understanding the world. And the younger we can give our kids these things, the better shot they have, because we will teaching them to think in Bible-categories. Why would we not want that?

So, all of this is basically to preface my excitement over the New City Catechism (link below until I can get the hyperlink to work). This was put together by Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC, along with The Gospel Coalition. It is a set of 52 questions (one for each week of the year), and will includes a verse to accompany each question, along with written commentary from preachers of the past, video commentary from modern pastors, and a written prayer for each question. The introduction to the catechism is here: http://www.newcitycatechism.com/intro.php

I highly encourage you to check this out, and consider how we might use such things to better hide God's Word in our hearts (Psalm 119). Tools like these are a gift from the Father, who gives us all good things (James 1), and we ought to enjoy them to His glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). What could be more gloriously joy-filled than getting to better know the God of all Creation?

http://www.newcitycatechism.com/
http://www.newcitycatechism.com/New_City_Catechism.pdf

October 10, 2012

And why abortion isn't about "traditional values," either.

I feel like the last few posts I've been ragging on traditional values. Allow me to make a clarifying statement. I am all for both traditions, and values. They are not, in and of themselves, bad things, and can be quite good. But when we take an issue of massive import, and lower it to the importance level of tradition, we do our culture, our country, and our fellow man a great disservice. That is my point.

And so I want to take some of that logic and apply it to the abortion topic. The prevailing stance on abortion on the "right hand" side of the isle seems to be that abortion is bad, unless the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest, or if the mother's life is at stake.  I want to explain why this position is completely illogical and indefensible.

What is the basis for opposing abortion at all?  Opposition to abortion rests on two premises
1)that an unborn fetus is a person
2)that the unprovoked killing of any person, something commonly known as murder, is wrong

Opposition to abortion rises and falls on these two premises. If the unborn an unhuman, then we have no reason to protect them.  If murder isn't wrong, the we have no reason to protect them.

So, is the unborn fetus a human being?  Writing in a November 22, 2005 article, Robert P. George says, "the answer is to be found in the works of modern human embryology and developmental biology. In these texts, we find little or nothing in the way of scientific uncertainty: '…human development begins at fertilization…' write embryologists Keith Moore and T.V. N. Persaud in The Developing Human (7th edition, 2003), the most widely used textbook on human embryology."
Here is another article from the Georgia Southern website on the issue: http://personal.georgiasouthern.edu/~etmcmull/ABORTION.htm

It would seem clear that science gives a a resounding "yes" to the answer of whether human life begins at conception. But what do the Scriptures have to say?  Science is good, but Scripture is our highest court.

 For you formed my inward parts;
  you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
 Wonderful are your works;
  my soul knows it very well.
(Psalm 139:13-14 ESV)


The Psalmist here declares that it was God Himself who knit his body together in his mother's womb. Not to read into the verse, but I hear an echo of Genesis 2 when I read this.

then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.
(Genesis 2:7 ESV)


Unlike the rest of creation which God simply speaks into existence (see Genesis 1), God forms man. Man is special to Him, the only part of creation which is made in His own image (Gen 1:26-28). And this image bearing begins in the womb. 
Because man is made in the image of God, few things could be more aggresive in our rebellion against God than to slay someone made in His own image.

 And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.
 “Whoever sheds the blood of man,
  by man shall his blood be shed,
 for God made man in his own image.
(Genesis 9:5-6 ESV)


This is the basis for the second point, that being, God hates murder.  We are all familiar with the sixth commandment,  "You shall not murder." (Exodus 20:13 ESV)

So assuming these two things are agreed upon, we have no argument. Abortion, the killing of an unborn human, is muder, and murder is wrong. Therefore, abortion is wrong. Pretty simple. Which is why this "I kinda don't like most abortions" point of view so royally pisses me off.

As soon as you concede that abortion might be okay in some instances, you have de facto junked your whole position. If abortion because it is murder, then how can it become okay under any circumstances? Are children concieved of incest or rape somehow sub-human?  This is ludacris to assume. A child concieved under such circumstances had no more control of it's situation than you did at a similar point in life.  A human life is valuable, regardless of who their parents are or were.  If you decide that simply because of a child's circumstances of conception that killing them is acceptable, then you have simply opened the door to the question of "what other circumstances might make murder acceptable?"  You have lost your consistent, logical, biblical footing for the opposition of abortion.

As for those cases in which the life of the mother is at stake, here are two articles.
http://www.prolifephysicians.org/rarecases.htm
http://liveaction.org/blog/abortion-to-save-the-mother%E2%80%99s-life/

I have only a couple of things to say on this point.
1)this is largely a hypothetical situation with very few real life cases that warrant discussion
2)even in this real life situation-should our default assumption be that the child should die and the mother should live? I realize this would be an incredibly difficult situation for any family to be put into, I just think it would serve us well to approach such things sensitively and in prayer, not bulging in saying "Mom's at risk, the baby dies." Pardon me if I think that is less caring than weighing all options possible.

September 28, 2012

Love Your Wife

Love your own wife
As Christ loved the church
Paul's word's here are brief
But I admit that they hurt

Will I chase for myself
This life's fleeting pleasures?
Or will I give to my wife
Make her good my endeavor?

Paul said that Christ
Was our chiefest example
One who laid down His life
Whose love was shown ample

Will I rise to this challenge
By trusting His power?
Or will I shrink back
In the darkest of hours?

Oh God I cry out for the faith
To trust You every day
And pursue my dear wife
Lord, for Your help I do pray

September 25, 2012

Questions, Comments, and Answers on Same-Sex Marriage

I want to use this post to address three points, all brought up in comments to the last one.

First, I want to address the comment made by an Anonymous individual whose main thrust in argument was that prohibiting homosexual marriage
a)prevents no one from sinning, and
b)is a violation of religious freedom.
On point "a", of course I agree with that. I can never do anything to stop another person from rebelling against God, because ultimately that is a heart issue, and I cannot see their heart, let alone change it. That being said, laws exist not because their existence precludes the possibility of evil, but because sinful human beings need both encouragement towards right behavior, and punishment for wrong behavior. Simply put, laws exist for the good of society (see Romans 13-or the entire Pentateuch). If a person believes, as I do, that the basic human relationship that society is built upon is the relationship of husband and wife in marriage, then encouraging and fighting for a definition of marriage that keeps that relationship held in honor, along with keeping it properly understood, will not harm society, but rather be helpful to it in the extreme. This is not a violation on religious freedom. Name for me one religion that as one of it's basic beliefs holds that homosexuals have the right to marry people of the same gender. Good luck finding one. In the closest possible parallel, one could look to Mormonism, which in it's early days held that polygamy was a good and noble thing. Was that embraced and tolerated by everyone else? No. Because while they had every right to believe that in America, we did not allow the incorrect belief of a minority to change the definition of one of the building blocks of civilization.

Second, Sydney brought up the fact that many professionals now hold the belief that sexual orientation is genetic. The argument being, "people are born with these desires, you have no right to criticize or oppose them." I would like to first say that while many Christians reject this notion out of hand, I do not. There is no doubt in my mind that a man could be born with more sexual attraction toward other men than towards women. This in no way contradicts anything in the Bible, it seems to line up with conversations I have had with homosexual friends of mine, and beyond not contradicting Scripture, it in fact upholds what the Bible has to say. Romans 1:26 says that when people reject God, He gives them up to their dishonorable passions. Passions, desires, etc, are not (necessarily) something we choose to have. We often times are simply inclined, either by birth or by upbringing, to prefer one thing over another. But simply because this is true does not make it good. This whole world is shattered by sin, most of all the human heart. We are by nature wicked, not good (Ephesians 2, Romans 3). Which means it is not just possible, but 100% certain that you are born with desires which do not please God. These desires, and our slavery to them, has us under the just wrath of God. For some people that desire is a romantic or sexual attraction to someone of the same gender. For many of us, it is that same desire toward someone of the opposite gender who is not our spouse, which God calls equally wicked. Notice that a prohibition of adultery makes it into the ten commandments, a prohibition of homosexuality does not. So in essence my response to the idea that people are "born gay" would be, okay. I was born a lying, adultering, thieving, God-hating idolater. Was God cool with that? No, He sent His Son to bear the wrath due to that sin (John 3:16, Romans 3:23-26). I have the choice to accept God's grace towards me in Jesus, or be turned over to my sin and suffer for it both here on earth and eternally in hell. This is the same for all people. Homosexuality is not special in that sense. The same passage there in Romans 1 which condemns homosexual relations also condemns things like disobedience to parents and gossiping. We're all born sinners, the question is whether we trust in Jesus' payments for our sin and His power in our lives to free us from the bondage we were in, or do we embrace our sin and bring down God's eternal wrath on our heads?

Finally, Donna asked how one balances the fight against same sex marriage with a brokenness for the people on the other side. And this is actually probably the easiest question here to answer, although the hardest to put into practice. We need to keep in mind that everything Christians do and say must ultimately be connected to the Gospel. Hence my focus in the last post about shifting away from a traditional or cultural view of marriage to a Biblical view of and vision for marriage. If I am fighting hard for one man plus one woman for life because it is my tradition, then the people attacking that tradition are my enemies. If they are my enemies then I probably will not have a loving attitude towards them, nor will I desire to see good come to them. The focus is on me, my rights, and my way of life. But if I am approaching marriage, and all of life, as a Gospel issue, then my focus shifts radically. As I said in point one here, fighting for marriage in one sense is fighting for the good of society. If I was right in the last post when I said that at the foundation, God created the family unit and marriage relationship as the building blocks of human society, then to fight for these things is to fight for the good of all people-even if they do not agree that it is better. A healthy society is good for all its members. Furthermore, we want to as Christians individually and corporately as the church, encourage and help to build good marriages (I highly commend John Piper's "This Momentary Marriage," Andreas Kostenberger's "God, Marriage, and Family," and Justin Buzzard's "Date Your Wife" as excellent resources). A healthy marriage is a healthy picture of Christ and His church, and that is what with world needs to see.
I do acknowledge the difficulties of this in a legislative, political sense. And this is where I would beg believers not to peg their hopes on reforming society. We want to do what we are able to encourage Biblical, Christ-exalting values. But we must realize that these will typically not be embraced by those who do not embrace Jesus. And so while political action, social action, and most other kinds of action are good-what is most important is the Gospel, and telling people the Good News of what Jesus has done. Which I suppose is a long way of saying this-our beliefs should not be held in balance with our action, our beliefs should drive our action. And the solid rock where our hope and motivation lies is not marriage, it is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We must keep the ultimate in view, or our view of things such as marriage become incredibly skewed and our motivations are polluted by our agenda, instead of being soaked in the blood of Jesus cross. I want everyone, homosexual, heterosexual, married, unmarried, adulterers, fornicators, faithful spouses-everyone-I want everyone to know that apart from Christ they are hopeless sinners under God's wrath, but that Jesus comes and satisfies the wrath of God for us. He offers us life and freedom from a whole world full of sin. 

September 22, 2012

Why Christians don't understand the same-sex marriage debate-and thus are losing it.

I want to make a few brief comments on marriage, and the debate over whether or not homosexual marriage should be created by our government. I use the word "created" very intentionally.

Note: none of my thoughts or ideas here are original, and most are being expressed by some in this ongoing national debate. However, they are certainly the minority, and so I have decided to add my small voice to the choir.

It seems to me that, while not universally, the general slogan of those opposed to same-sex marriage (from here on "SSM") is that they "support traditional marriage and traditional values." Less frequently I hear of a support for "Judeo-Christian" values. Here is my rub with both of these terms, especially the former-they utterly miss the root of this entire issue. The question is not whether marriage should conform to what is traditional. If it were, of course marriage could change into whatever we would like it to. This is because traditions and values change with time, geographical location, and culture. Simply because something, in this case monogamous heterosexual marriage, was embraced for the first 200 or so years of the American experience does not make it worth preserving. Sorry to burst your flag waving bubble. Even the fact that such an institution is embraced across many cultures, throughout much of human history, does not make it worth preserving. Slavery has been embraced, to varying degrees, by many cultures spanning nearly all of human history, on every continent (sans Antarctica, I don't know of much slavery happening there). Do we cry out for it's preservation? No.

So what makes marriage different? Is there a legitimate case to be made against SSM and for "traditional" marriage? Yes, there is. While the argument I will present is certainly not exhaustive, I do believe it to be far more compelling than most anything being presented to us in most attempts to save marriage. I want to briefly address both what marriage is foundationally, and what it is ultimately.

First, marriage is foundationally a creation of God. Human beings are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Part of that image is the capacity and desire for loving, communicative, relationship. And the first relationship God gives man is marriage. God says that it is not good for man to be alone, the first thing in all of creation that God deems to be anything other than "good" or "very good." And so he creates a helper suitable for Him. We see this all in Genesis chapter two. Every other form of human relationship is built upon this framework. Churches, clans, and communities are built on families. Governments, being built upon the culture created by churches, clans, and communities, are thus ultimately are at their foundation built upon families. And the human family begins with a husband and wife. This one man plus one woman for life relationship, as instituted by God in the garden of Eden, is the cornerstone of human civilization. So at marriages foundation it is instituted by God, and as such we are not at liberty to define it. He already has. And He has designed the rest of human existence in relation to this relationship. This being the case, it not only is not our place to define it, but it would seem to be to our disadvantage. I'm not much for analogies, but if I'm building a house and decide to take a bale of straw, call it my "cornerstone", and proceed to build-the results will be, shall we say, less than satisfactory. Call a bale of straw a cornerstone does not make it a cornerstone.

This is an important part of the discussion, and it's probably a necessary place to begin. But it is not the biggest reason for keeping marriage defined the way God defines it. For that we need to look at Ephesians 5:28-32,

In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

Here the apostle Paul gives us marriage's ultimate meaning-it is meant to picture Christ and His church. As Christians we have to know this. Certainly, marriage is the building block for healthy churches, cultures, and nations. It absolutely is the best environment for raising children. One man plus one woman for a lifetime is "simply the way it's supposed to be." Marriage as defined in the Bible just plain works. But this is not enough. Again, if our appeal is merely to "traditional" values, pragmatism, and the created order, we have a solid argument, but I'm not so sure that it is compelling. Paul's argument in Ephesians five is over-arching. He says in essence, "yes, God built this into the creation order-but for a higher purpose. To show us Himself. To show us His love." This is why defining marriage in agreement with God is a matter of utmost importance-because anything different does not display who Christ is and how he loves His church. Distortions of marriage lie about God. A man who radically and self-givingly loves his wife as his own body images Christ. A wife who in joyful love submits to and respects her husband displays a beautiful picture of the church. Anything outside that is a lie about the very nature of God. This is why divorce is a dreadfully wrong, why polygamy is a dreadfully wrong, why adultery is a dreadfully wrong, why fornication is dreadfully wrong, why pornography is dreadfully wrong, and why homosexuality (and by extension, SSM) is dreadfully wrong. Because marriage speaks to the very nature of Christ's covenantal, loving relationship with His bride, the church.

Let me end on two practical notes.

1- The reason it is imperative for us to see this is simple-there are people fighting tooth and nail to push this through, and a lot of people sitting on their hands either because they don't want to offend anyone, or because of some stupid political position saying it doesn't matter what the government does with marriage anyway (ala, Ron Paul). This is absolutely wrong. The issue does matter because of marriage's design to reflect the relationship of Christ and His church. Ad the government's position on it does matter, because in our country marriage is a legally recognized institution, and if something besides real, biblical marriage is allowed to be called "marriage" because Christians simply sat on their hands and said "it doesn't matter what the government says" we lie to the millions of non-Christians in our country, and the billions in our world who watch and see that the issue of marriage obviously isn't a big deal to us. And if something designed to tell us about our God doesn't matter, then how much does our God really matter?

2- The battle is not against flesh and blood. Homosexuals who think they should be able to be "married" are not the problem. Democrats and liberals in congress and White House are not the problem. The ACLU is not the problem. The problem is sin. Sin blinds people to spiritual reality, and until Jesus comes in and lifts that veil so that they can see, they won't get it. And so for Christians, we have to quit playing defense. Quit acting like a bunch of babies crying because someone is trying to "take your traditions away" and make the world different than the comfy one you were used to. You ought to be broken for someone whose view of marriage has been so skewed by experience, by culture, and by their own sin that they cannot see how beautifully God has designed it to function both as a picture of His own love, and as the most intimate of human relationships. Quit being afraid of sinners. Be broken for them. Quit treating them like the bad guys. Realize that we're all the bad guys, and that God loved us enough to kill His Son in our place despite that.

You see, if this is a character of God issue, then it ultimately is a Gospel issue. And any efforts we make to keep marriage defined as one man and one woman, need to be made with that in view. We don't fight for marriage for the sake of marriage. We fight for marriage because Jesus radically loves His bride, and we want everyone to know that love.

August 30, 2012

A faith like Grandma's

Life is well...well, it's life. Beautiful, terrible, wonderful, painful. This poem came to me as I spent some time with my "Grammy" yesterday and talked life. I know I speak for not only myself, but many who know her.



A faith like my grandma
is what I long to gain
Her trust it never wavers
regardless of life's pain

She is strong and sure
her God does never fail
Even when life's storm darkens
she trusts Him to prevail

I have studied many hours
learning deep theology
But my truest times of learning
were at my "Grammies" knee

Without the fancy wording
of a deep and heavy book
She taught me simple trust
"He is Sovereign" says her look

So when I face my own trails
I will know that from His hand
Flows a sweet and bitter providence
and His plan is beyond grand

This faith is what God asks
and indeed, what He requires



And so I thank my Grandma
for this kind of faith, she inspires.

August 10, 2012

The Unpardonable Sin



Mark 3:22-30 ESV

And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, "He is possessed by Beelzebul," and "by the prince of demons he casts out the demons." And he called them to him and said to them in parables, "How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house. "Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin" — for they were saying, "He has an unclean spirit."

 Hebrews 10:26-31 ESV

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, "Vengeance is mine; I will repay." And again, "The Lord will judge his people." It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

 These are two of the most difficult passages in the Scriptures. If you didn't actually read it before you started reading this, scroll back up and do so. 
The reason I want to look at these and draw for you the connection that I believe is there is because over a year ago I had a student in youth group ask the question that most people ask after reading Mark 3- "If blasphemy against the Spirit is the only unpardonable sin, what then, is blasphemy against the Spirit?" It's a very reasonable question. If Jesus says this is the only thing you can do that you won't be forgiven of, we probably want to know what it is and avoid it, right? 
And yet the footnotes in most Bibles, and the off-the-cuff conjectures of youth leaders, seem to most generally ring hollow when it comes to answering that question. And the question bugged me, so I researched, listening to sermons and checking commentaries, and all it seemed to lead to was more confusion for me. And so I came to the conclusion that it was just one of those things I'd never quite understand. Which sounds all well and fine, unless you know me, and then you would realize how bonkers such a conclusion would drive me. But there wasn't a lot I could do about it. 

So there's the preface, essentially, that an intelligent and inquisitive student asked a good question that I found no solid answer for. I want to preface with that because those pastors, and theologians, and whoever it is that writes study Bibles are obviously a lot smarter than me. So if they can't find something solid, then maybe I'm foolish to think that I understand it. Take what you're about to read with a grain of salt. Prayerfully consider if what is discussed is present in your life. If so, repent. Anyone willing to repent is not beyond forgiveness, 

1 John 1:9 ESV
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 

 So let's do just a little bit of context work with each of these passages, and then draw the connection. 

First we have the passage in Mark three. What is happening? Jesus has been royally annoying the scribes and Pharisees. How? By doing things like healing a man with a withered hand on (gasp!) the Sabbath, forgiving sins, and the issue at hand here, casting out demons. This has not made him at all popular with the local religious leaders. So what do they do? They accuse Him of casting out demons by the power of Satan, rather than the power of God. And Jesus responds with parables, that is, stories with a point. Stories about a house divided being unable to stand, and about it being impossible to plunder a strong man's house without first binding said strong man. The point Jesus makes is clear-Satan can't be casting out demons, because he'd be working against himself, and for anyone else to cast them out, Satan must be bound. Jesus makes it exceedingly clear that what they are accusing Him of is not only false, but absolutely ludacris. It is after all this that He makes the statement that all blasphemies will be forgiven except blasphemy against the Spirit, for that is an eternal sin. 

 Let's now shift our gaze on over to Hebrews 10. A quick side note here, I've read through Hebrews several times recently, and it is exceedingly rich and helpful. If you haven't read it lately, take the 30-55 minutes (depending on how quickly you read) and just read it straight through. It will be time well spent. That being said, obviously the context of Hebrews is a little different than that of Mark. We have an unknown writer writing to an unknown, although presumably Jewish, audience. A large part of the book deals with how Jesus is supremely better and above everything and everyone else. Jesus is above angels, Jesus is better than Moses, Jesus is the Great High Priest, Jesus' priesthood is better than the Levitical priesthood, the Covenant Jesus establishes is better than the old Covenant, and the beginning of chapter ten deals with Jesus sacrifice being better than the continual sacrifices of the blood of bulls and goats, for His not only atones for, but removes sin. That's the backdrop of what we read in verses 26-31. Jesus fulfills and supersedes the old things. Jesus has, through His blood, allowed us to have our sins forgiven by God, and God makes us His people. 
Now here in verses 26-31 we see, essentially, what happens when you reject that. 

First we need to see here that knowing the truth is not enough. Obedience is what God requires (for a longer treatment of that, you can go back to my sermon on Matthew 7).
The writer tells us that if we have a knowledge of the truth, and yet continue to sin deliberately, we no longer can expect forgiveness, but rather the wrath of Almighty God. Anyone who broke Moses law was put to death based on two or three witnesses-how much worse to have God against you for spurning His Son, trampling the blood, and thus outraging the Spirit! It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. 

So, what is the connection? I think what we see here are really very similar things, similar sins, that share a common end. In Mark we have the Pharisees, people who know the Jewish Scriptures better than anyone else. They are seemingly very dedicated to God. And yet when the Messiah comes, preaching good news, healing the sick, casting out demons, and forgiving sins, they who should be the first to recognize, embrace, and worship Him instead are suspicious, malicious, amd accusatory. They have no excuse for not seeing, Jesus makes it clear to them who He is, and yet they reject Him. They take the clear work of God the Holy Spirit and attribute it to Satan.
In Hebrews we see a person described who has a knowledge of the truth. Perhaps they are even like the people in Matthew seven who think they are doing good works and following God. But there are areas of clear sin in their lives that they refuse to confess and repent. They know the truth and yet continue to deliberately sin. They can see the Son of God and what He did, and refuse to accept His sacrifice. Their sin is sweeter to them than the grace of Jesus. 
The power of the Pharisees was sweeter to them than worshipping the God they claimed to serve. 

 To conclude. I think we sometimes seperate out verses like Mark 3:28-29, and try to figure out their meaning apart from their obvious context. If I just throw out the phrase "blasphemy againt the Spirit" without context, then of course it will be confounding and confusing. But I really believe that Jesus is clear that what is happening is not ambiguous at all. Rather, these people clearly know the truth. They are able to see God at work. And yet they reject Him. In Hebrews, there are people who know the truth, who know that Chirst will purify them, but the reject Him in favor of their sin.  

The question is, why is this unforgivable? It does not state this black and white in the text, so take it for what it is, merely my opinion.
What is the only condition of forgiveness? Repentance and faith. Confess your sins, and believe that God forgivess you because of Christ. So it would seem to me that the reason the sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit is unforgivable because it impedes our ability to repent. It kills the seed of faith. To look at the work of God, and know it is the work of God, and yet reject Him- this cannot coexist with faith. And a faithless heart is an unforgiven heart.

July 24, 2012

God, murders, and justice

As a preface: I had started this post on Friday. I halted it for a couple of reasons. I won't go into all of them, although the most important one I will. I believe of cycle of 24 hour news, with all the latest information available immediately on the internet is wonderful for gossip, and absolutely terrible for meaningful reflection on anything, but most especially tragedy. I woul venture to guess that most of you reading this felt shock, horror, outrage, or some other emotion of a particularily violent force when you turned on your TV/computer/radio Friday morning. I would also think it safe to assme that as coverage has slowly waned, so has emotion. To some extent this cannot be helped, things that are fresh in our minds are always going to be what bring forth the deepest emotions and reactions. But I fear the we are so overwhelmed with information that when something truly of weight like this happens, we are quick to forget, turn the page, and go do something different. And so I delayed my posting this.




As I eluded to Friday in a Tweet, the news of the shootings in Colorado has weighed heavy on my mind. How do such tragedies happen? How could God, if He is truly loving and truly sovereign, allow such things? These are serious questions, for which trite answers will not suffice. And I will not attempt to answer them in this short post.

But as I consider these questions myself, and look to Scripture for the answers, here are a few things that comfort me.

1)The first place I think of is Hebrews 4. The writer there tells us that in Jesus we have a High Priest before the Father who is sympathetic with our plight, and He gives mercy and grace to those who would draw near Him.

"Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest gwho is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:14-16)

2)God hates the sin of murder. He will execute justice.

'And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.

“Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image."'
(Genesis 9:5-6)

3)God hates all sin. He hates it so much that He sent His own Son to bear the weight of sin. God poured out His wrath of Jesus so that any who repent might have God's wrath absorbed by Christ, and would instead be given His righteousness.
 
"He Himself bore bore our sins in His body on the tree..."
(1 Peter 2:24a)
 
"And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross."

(Colossians 2:13-14)
 
"but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God."

(Romans 5:8-9 ESV)
 
"For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

(2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV)
 
4)God's justice demands that all sin be paid for. The repentant will be forgiven by God, and their sin is laid on Jesus (see previous point). The unrepentant stand condemned, and unless they turn, will bear the wrath of God for their sins eternally.
 
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God."
(John 3:16-18)

"The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death."

(Revelation 21:7-8)
 

July 19, 2012

Grace and misplaced trust.

Just a quick thought on grace. Reading in Matthew 26 in my devos today and Jesus tells them the will all fall away, and of course as we know, Peter says "not me! I'll die before I leave you!" Of course he's wrong. Peter's confidence is misplaced. Jesus reinterates that Peter will not only fall away, but more than the other disciples, will verbally deny Jesus three times before morning. imagine being Peter right now. You are Jesus' closest earthly friend. And you're told that you will fall away. You reassure him that you are faithful. And then you're told you're falling will be worse than the rest.
Isn't that us? Does it not seem that every time we become more determined to be "good  Christians" that these are the moments we fall the hardest? Of course they are. That used to terribly frustrate me. Reading that today though showed me something beautiful. Those failures are the grace of God. If through grit and Will-power(pardon the pun), I could become the person God desires me to be, my boast would be in myself.
But that doesn't work. Praise God. I, like Peter, love to boast in my loyalty. It usually results in failure. Praise be to God that he is faithful, and his grace is there to sustain. Especially in my failings.

July 18, 2012

Solid Rock or Sinking Sand?

Preface: This is the manuscript for a sermon I preached at Plummer Bible Church on 7/1/12. We had several people not at church that day who requested I get them CD's...and well, I haven't done that. Until that can happen, here is the manuscript.

Faith in the Rock or faith in the sand?


7/1/12 Plummer Bible Church

Prayer:



Father God,

I pray for this sermon. I pray that as Your word is opened that your Holy Spirit would open our eyes to see, our ears to hear, and soften our hearts to respond. I pray that we would seek to know you, Father. That we would long for the reconciliation you offer through Jesus, and the transformation done by the Holy Spirit. I pray that you would do these things in us for the praise of Your glorious grace. We pray in the holy name of Jesus. Amen.



Intro:



*Matthew 7:13-29 (ESV)

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.



*I want to begin this sermon by making something clear up from the start. I did not pick this text because I thought it would make a good sermon. Nor did I pick it because it’s on my list of 15 favorite Bible verses. I’m not even really sure if using the word “picked” in reference to my decision to preach this text today would even be accurate. To say I was left without a choice seems more honest. I tried to preach it last year over at Harrison, and while I don’t feel like I did a very good job of it, ever since I read it before that sermon these verses, especially verses 21-23 have disturbed me. They have weighed heavily on my mind, a times keeping me awake at night with endless questions. I am forced to wonder as I read, “Is this me?” Will I be among those who call Jesus “Lord, Lord” and are told to depart, for I never knew Him and walked in lawlessness? That is a disturbing thing to consider. Perhaps the only thing more disturbing than that is the fact that millions of “Christians” don’t ask those same questions, when Jesus point right here is very clearly to cause us to question. This is profoundly disturbing to me.



But before we get too far, I want to tell you how I’m going to break this text down to preach through it. In these 17 verses, I want us to see five distinct contrasts, which we will divide into three categories, if you will. The first contrast we will look at examines the authority of the teaching, I want to establish the fact that we need to pay attention to what is said here. The next three contrasts will fall into the second category and will comprise the meat of the teaching. What is Jesus point here, and how does it apply to our lives today? And then we have the fifth contrast in it’s own category, that being the application or challenge question, which Jesus gives us by way of analogy.



These 17 verses at the end of Matthew seven comprise the conclusion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. That is important to keep in mind, because often times, this is one of the first places people point when they want to call Jesus merely a “good moral man” or a “good teacher.” They will point to such things as the Beatitudes, the Golden Rule, the litany of moral imperatives, perhaps even the Lord’s Prayer, and say “see, good rules to live by.” I find that reaction both fascinating and terrifying, because while the teaching of Jesus is most obviously good, that is not the first thing on the minds of those who were there for this sermon.



Contrast 1: Jesus versus the scribes

And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.

(Matthew 7:28-29 ESV)



What is it that these people leave astonished at? Not what Jesus said, but rather how he said it. They don’t leave astonished that a nice man had a few helpful things to say that may help their life. The Scribes, experts in the law, taught with no such authority. They could only teach what was already stated, Jesus was saying, “You have heard it said…but I say…” He had an authority that blew people away.



I want to notice this first of all, because it is far too easy for us to get stuck on clich├ęs such as “the Bible is our road map” or, “the Bible is basic instructions before leaving earth.” The problem is, while the Bible is filled with instruction and directions on how to live, these are what I would contend, are secondary to the primary purpose. And they can only be understood in light of what is primary. The primary purpose of Scripture is to reveal God, specifically Jesus, who is Himself was sent to reveal God. Let’s look at a couple passages of Scripture.



(John 1:1-4;14-18 ESV) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.



Jesus is God. Hence the authority with which He taught. We’re not dealing with your average Galelian peasant, or for that matter, we’re not dealing with your average Oxford professor. We’re talking about, or in the case of the Sermon on the Mount (and any other place in Scripture) listening to, the God of all the universe. The Second member of the Trinity, the maker of Heaven and earth, the Alpha and the Omega, beginning and the end. He came to earth to make God known and bears witness to the truth of God’s word (see John 5, John 17, and John 18). Let’s look at another large chunk of Scripture.



Hebrews 1:1-2:1

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

For to which of the angels did God ever say,

“You are my Son,

today I have begotten you”?

Or again,

“I will be to him a father,

and he shall be to me a son”?

And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,

“Let all God's angels worship him.”

Of the angels he says,

“He makes his angels winds,

and his ministers a flame of fire.”

But of the Son he says,

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,

the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.

You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;

therefore God, your God, has anointed you

with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

And,

“You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning,

and the heavens are the work of your hands;

they will perish, but you remain;

they will all wear out like a garment,

like a robe you will roll them up,

like a garment they will be changed.

But you are the same,

and your years will have no end.”

And to which of the angels has he ever said,

“Sit at my right hand

until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”?

Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.



Jesus, again, is God. He now sits exalted. And He has spoken to us today through His word. Tell me then, how can we not pay careful attention to what he says? God the Father reveals Himself to us through the person of His Son, we come to know His Son through the Scriptures (see John 5, 2 Timothy 3). The Holy Spirit moves through the word. He wrote it. He shows us God in it. Why should we settle for viewing it as a mere roadmap or guidebook when it is infinitely more than that? Why, why, why oh Christian, are we happy with so little? Why do we go searching for rules, or loopholes to escape rules, when we should be in desperate search of the face of God? How could we do this?



As we move into the meat of Jesus teaching here, we will see directions. We will

be told things about life, about ourselves. But in all of this, we must long to know how it fits into the character and nature of God, because if we try to understand the imperatives and statements on how to live, apart from who God Himself is, we will be utterly lost. Our teacher here is no mere man. Our Teacher here is God Himself.

Contrast 2: Wide and easy versus Narrow and hard

Matthew 7:13-14

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who enter by it are few.”



As we look at this contrast between the narrow and wide gate, and the easy and hard roads, again, I want us to remember our teacher is Jesus. Jesus is God. And here, Jesus is saying that the way to hell is real easy, and most people are coasting right on in. I don’t recall if I said this last time I preached here or not; but it bears repeating. Jesus did not come in order for you to live a “Christianized” version of the American Dream. If you doubt that look no further than this verse. What we call the American Dream is success, ease, comfort, and stability. And Jesus says living for these things, these things that are easy to live for, these things that everyone chases, are the road to hell. And many enter by it. Many. So, we should feel pressed by this question-if ease marks the road to destruction, then why is it ease that I seek? The gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to drunken Friday nights, forgetting the worries of my week. The gate is wide and the way is easy that spends my extra income to upgrade my TV package so I can watch more football. The gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to men shirking responsibility and chasing an indulgent life of fun and play. The gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to wives dishonoring and disrespecting their husbands. The gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to American “Christians” giving less than 2% percent of their income to “charitable causes” of any sort, let alone their local church. The gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to our overtly self-centered, egotistical, me-first way of living. And the world paints it as right and good. But Jesus paints it another way. The picture he paints of that life shows it ending in hellfire. Jesus says the easy way ends in destruction.



This is the terrifying reality-there are millions who call themselves Christians, perhaps some in this very room, who are not on the hard road to life, but on the easy road to destruction. Church is simply a part of your ease seeking life. That is frightening to me. That people who do not truly have a saving faith in Jesus could be sitting in these very pews believing that they are on the road to life. Because we have been sold a bill of goods. We live in a culture, and all too often, in a church culture, that sees the avoidance of pain as the highest good. We need to wake up to the fact that the life Jesus calls us to is not an easy one. He calls us to enter a narrow gate, approached by a hard road. As Bonhoeffer put it, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Death to the world, death to self, death to sin. As Paul says in Romans 6:11-12



“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.”



We ought to echo with Paul what he writes in chapter three of his letters to the Philippians:



But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:6-11 ESV)



Paul counted all else as loss, and he counted that loss to be mere rubbish compared to the richness of knowing Jesus. Is this us? We see something interesting in Paul’s statement here. While he certainly is looking forward to the end, the resurrection of the dead, that’s not all he mentions. His counting of all former things as loss is present tense. He already sees the surpassing value of knowing Jesus. He says in Philippians 1:21 that, “for me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” How often do we simply read the last part, about dying being gain? Of course we want to see that, that is an incredibly important for our perspective as Christians. But Paul doesn’t just say that. He says to live is Christ. Paul is living the hard road, heading for the narrow gate. We’ve seen in our study of Acts that his life is not easy- he is jailed, beaten, ridiculed. But in spite of all that, he says to live is Christ.



Contrast Paul’s view with that of Solomon. In Ecclesiastes one, the Preacher, Solomon, a man who possesses more wealth, money, fame, glory, wisdom, women, servants, etc, than anyone of us could ever even dream of-declares “all is vanity.”



Ecclesiastes 1:2, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”



Here is a man whose earthly status and possessions makes anything you will accomplish, gain, or have pale in comparison. And what does he call it? Vain. Chasing after the wind. Meaningless, pointless. He just can’t “get no satisfaction” as the Rolling Stones would have it.



Paul had nothing, yet had everything in Jesus. Solomon had everything, but it was all empty. Which is to say, not only does the broad and easy way lead you to hell-you get there feeling empty. The climb up the narrow and hard way, while certainly not easy, is most definitely satisfying. Because Jesus is satisfying.



Contrast 3: False Teachers versus True teachers.



Matthew 7:15-20- Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.



And so we come to our third contrast. We see Jesus draw a very distinctive line between the false and the true teacher. The analogy he uses is that of fruit trees, saying that healthy trees produce good fruit, and diseased trees bear bad fruit. This should be obvious, right? I mean, do we not somewhat question why Jesus is even taking the time to point this out? I think it probably has a lot to do with the fact that we have such an incredibly flawed idea of what Jesus means by “healthy” and “diseased.” Jesus says that the false teachers are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Which is to say, we in the 21st Century, probably don’t have to worry about being too influenced by Mein Kampf. We can look back and see the Hitler as a despicable human being, and it’s easy to avoid those sorts of errors. The biggest problems and most dangerous errors are not going to come from people or teaching so far out there that it is labeled as crazy. It comes from wolves disguised as sheep.



2 Timothy 4:3-4- For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.





People everywhere are looking not for sound teaching, but for some to itch their ears. We look for those who would tell us what we want to hear, and we reject the truth. Why? Because much of Christianity is uncomfortable, bad news. You are by nature a child of wrath and servant of the devil (Ephesians 2), you have seen God and rejected Him (Romans 1), you have sinned and fall short of God's glory (Romans 3), the wages of said sin is death (Romans 6), and the only way out of this circumstance is by God Himself making a way and causing you to be born again, you cannot earn it (John 3:16-18, Romans 5:6-11; Ephesians 1:1-2:9; etc). Furthermore, for those who have been born again, Jesus makes some radical demands. He is to be valued more than wife, children, parents, friends, and even life itself (John 12:25, Matthew 10:37). He tells them they will be hated for His sake, that persecution will come, and that following Him guarantees them nothing in the way of material blessing-the disciples are not promised that Jesus will keep them alive, that they will have food, or that they will even have a place to sleep.

Later on in the epistles writers such as James and Peter give such ridiculous commands as rejoicing in the midst of trials, and then promising that those same trials are a place where we can find peace and rest in God, and where our faith will be grown. Or we could consider those uncomfortable words of Paul in Colossians 3 where he tells us to put our sin to death. You see true teaching isn't going to be identified by the fruit of people liking it. Telling people they can have their best life now, or that God will make them rich and healthy, or that God's favorite way of showing His glory is through your wealth, will pack church buildings. It does every week all over America. But it will do so at the cost of souls. You see, the primary danger for Christians isn't from Atheists, or Democrats, or evolutionists, or Islam-the biggest danger is from within. Beware of false prophets. Beware of anyone selling you a smaller version of who Jesus is than what the Bible paints. Beware of anyone trying to tell you God's biggest goal for you here is comfort. Beware, because to buy into a cheap version of Jesus is not to have bought the Gospel at all. No social gospel, prosperity gospel, or any other Gospel that says “Jesus is the way to get____” will save you, unless what fills in that blank is God. Jesus will not be used as currency to purchase your idols. If you look to Jesus just because you want things to go well for you, you've missed Jesus. If you want Jesus just because you feel guilty about your baggage, you've missed Jesus. If you want Jesus just to get to heaven, you've missed Jesus. Jesus came to bring us to God, for the praise of His glorious grace. Come to Him in humility, adoring Him for who He is, loving Him for who He is, and humbly accept the gifts of salvation and forgiveness that He offers those who approach Him with a humble and contrite heart. But don't come demanding the gifts, and don't come for the gifts. Come to Jesus for Jesus. Come to Jesus to know God. And listen to teachers who point you there. Because there is a lot of stuff out there that sounds good, but will poison you. True teaching reproves, rebukes, and corrects us for our sin. True teaching exhorts us to live lives that are holy. True teaching trains and equips us for righteousness. True teaching points us to the Bible, because the Bible points us to Jesus, and He is the one we need.



What teachers are you looking for?





Contrast 4: Lawless faith and obedient faith.

Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you;depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’



These verses, perhaps more than anywhere else in Scripture, give us clear evidence that the widely taught “easy believism” of modem evangelicalism, is an absolute farce. Jesus is speaking here of people who clearly identify Him as Lord. People who do “many mighty works” in the name of Jesus Christ. They obviously believe that they serve Him. They presumably cling to the promises of glory and heaven promised for His servants. And yet Jesus tells them that all of their believing and clinging is in vain. They are lawless. They never knew Him. He casts them out. Wow.



This should be profoundly disturbing to us, because we must see as we read this that these people have faith. They believe that calling Jesus “Lord” and doing works equals them being in the kingdom. These are probably not the sort of people who are out being blatantly wicked and lawless, but rather are quite religious. Good church folk. These people very clearly think that they are saved. Which means, when we consider Jesus' earlier statement that few enter through the narrow gate, that it is not only possible, but probable that there are people sitting in these chairs today who think that they know Jesus, but don't. Which means, that it is very possible that there are people sitting in this room who would call themselves Christians, and are still under the wrath of God, destined for eternal torment in hell. This fact should not only scare us with its weight, it should utterly break our hearts. You have friends, family members, coworkers, fellow churchmen, who not only are lost, but are so deceived as to believe they are safe. This is bad news. I want to take a little time to look at the nature of this “deficient faith,” and then look at how to identify and guard against it in our own lives and church.



What makes their faith deficient? Jesus tells us very clearly in verse 23. “And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you;depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” He never knew them, and they are workers of lawlessness. Contrast that with verse 21 where Jesus says that those who do the will of the Father will enter the kingdom of heaver. So the deficiency here is that their “faith” does not lead into obedience. This concept really should not be new to us, and some of them we went over in my last sermon.



(James 2:14-18 ESV) What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.



(John 3:16-18,36 ESV)“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.



(Hebrews 11:6, 8 ESV) And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.



(John 14:15 ESV) “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.



(1 John 2:4 ESV) Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him,



Did you identify a theme running through those verses? Faith-real, true, Biblical, saving faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord, is always followed by obedience. Having faith does not replace good works, rather, it always produces good works. Always.



Now, anytime someone dares to call us on this, we are quick to point to Paul and say “grace!” we are not under the law, but under grace! Yes, and Amen. But I don't think people who are playing the “grace card” have any idea what they're talking about. Because claiming to be a follower of the Jesus who hung our sin on the cross and soaked it in His own blood, does not free me to live in all the sin and debauchery I desire. It is the exact opposite. God the Father has given us, in Jesus, freedom from the bondage of sin. He has loosed the shackles. And according to Romans six, we are now not only able, but commanded, to walk in a way that is dead to sin, and alive to Christ. Let's look at Galatians 5, verses 16-21.



But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.



The Spirit and the flesh are opposed. They cannot be reconciled. Essentially what Paul says here is that you cannot claim to be a Christian and live like the world. You know the saying, “if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it's probably a duck.” If you look like the world, and act like the world, you're probably of the world. Which means you're opposed to God. That's not a good place to be. Your life needs to be radically transformed by the Gospel. If it's not, then Scripture is clear-you're probably not a believer at all.



But let's pause for a minute and go back to our text in Matthew. Before you take what I just got through saying about faith producing works, and go gung ho into every church program we have and start five more, listen to Jesus words again. Let's re-read verses 21-23



“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you;depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’



You may have noticed already that these people aren't necessarily doing all those things listed in Galatians as being “of the flesh.” Perhaps they were, but we can't prove it, because Jesus doesn't say. What is far more likely given what he does say, is that these are devoutly religious people. People who are avoiding all of that bad stuff, and finding their own way to be lawless. They have good works, don't they? And not just any good works, but major league good works! Prophesying, casting out demons, and many other mighty works, how many of you have just one of those on your resume? These guys are top of the line Christians...or are they? I want to look very quickly at a few more verses in Galatians five and the peek over to Galatians six.



(Galatians 5:22-26 ESV) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.



(Galatians 6:3-4 ESV) For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.



(Galatians 6:14 ESV) But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.



We all know that list in Galatians five. But let me ask you a question, how often when the fruit of the Spirit are mentioned, do simply think of them as the Christians “to do” list? I think most of us do. And it is totally wrong headed. Paul says these things are the fruit of the Spirit. Jesus already explained to us how fruit works. Where does good fruit come from, diseased trees that decide to try hard and make pretty fruit? No, it comes from healthy trees, in this case trees whose disease of sin is taken away by Jesus, and who are being healed by the Holy Spirit. These trees then begin, with increased health, to bear increasingly better fruit. We call that sanctification. And it's the work of the Holy Spirit, not a checklist.



Paul goes on in chapter six to say you're nothing, to think you're something is a joke. Examine yourself honestly, and then try boasting. You have nothing. So boast only in the cross, because it is all we as Christians have. Is this how the people in Matthew seven respond to Jesus? No! They plead the case of their own works, which the book of Isaiah would call “filthy rags.” It doesn't matter whose name you did them in, if they were your works, then they are of no account. Let's be clear-works are an indicator, and a necessary one at that-of salvation. But the focus of salvation will never be works. It will always be the Gospel, because a focus on our works would bring glory to us, while a focus on the Gospel brings glory to God. And the glory of God is the point of the Gospel (see Romans 1:1-7).



So what that means is this-it is possible to “believe in Jesus” in a way that is not obedient to Him, and therefore is not what we might describe as true or saving belief. And we cannot be wishy washy on this. Our witness to this dying world is at stake, the health of the church is at stake, the eternal destiny of people-of you and I-are at stake. This is no small matter. Jesus call in the Scriptures is never to evangelize, get them a “get to heaven free card” and then disciple them if they're into that and it works for you. His radical call of discipleship applies to each and every believer, and those unwilling to embrace it are most likely not believers at all. This is not an oft said thing in our churches. We want people to feel secure and happy knowing how things will end for them-but Jesus seems very little concerned about such a temporal sense of security in the Gospels. He is always making statements like these that force us to question if we ourselves are saved. Jesus seems far less concerned about a small temporary sense of peace, and far more concerned about you seeing the stark contrast between believing Him, forsaking the world, gaining our soul, and rejecting Him, living for food that perishes, and ourselves perishing eternally. If that is the concern of Jesus, should it not be the concern of His church? Brothers and sisters, please, I beg of you, honestly question your salvation, examine your works, and then cling to Jesus. Not some caricature of Him that makes Him nice and fuzzy and easy to believe in cause He is just so easy to get along with, but cling to the God-man who crucified sin, who rose from the dead, and cry with the man in Mark 9:24 “I believe; help my unbelief!”



Contrast 5: Wise Man versus Foolish Man

(Matthew 7:24-27 ESV)

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”



Our final contrast is essentially Jesus' parting shot in the Sermon on the Mount. He says, more or less, are you going to listen? Will you repent of your evil, follow me, and in so doing build your house on the rock? If you don't, watch out. Rain will fall, floods will rise, and the wind will come beating and driving. Where is your house built? Are you on the hard way, destined for the narrow gate, watching for false teachers, and examining your faith to be sure you're clinging to and building on the rock? If so, your house will never fall.



Or are you whistling merrily along the easy road, headed for that broad gate. Are you coasting along, not questioning what the world has to say, buying it hook line and sinker. Are you confident in your own thoughts, and living for that beach front view? You're building on sand, and it ends in destruction.



Everyone is building a house. Where are you building yours?

About Me

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I love Jesus, my wife, and my kids. Writing and teaching are two things I have a passion for. Gardening and fishing are cool, too. I blog @ willdole.com, you can reach me @ contact@willdole.com